Following are four practical tips to help you work effectively with remote workers in other time zones and build a strong working relationship, regardless of geographic location.
Embracing the challenges of remote work across time zones can be an opportunity for team members to become more effective, collaborative, and productive, regardless of location. Building trust is important when working with someone in another time zone.
Let’s say you are leading a remote team and you are based in Seattle (Pacific Time), and your colleagues are located in Dallas (Central Time) and Orlando (Eastern Time). To work effectively, you will need to use creative strategies to bridge the time zone divide.
Tip 1: Clarify Expectations
Clearly communicate expectations around availability, response times, work hours, and deadlines. Ensure that everyone is clear on what is expected of them and how to communicate effectively with the team. Review the following strategies and consider what will work for your remote team:
Availability: This can include being out of the office for a quick appointment, in a meeting, or on a deadline), and that they should provide an estimated response time if they are unable to respond immediately.
Response times: Outline the expectation for response times for urgent and non-urgent messages. For example, urgent messages could be responded to within 2 hours during regular work hours and non-urgent messages should be responded to within 24 hours during the work week.
Work Hours: Clarify when all team members should be available during regular working hours (10AM-11PM CT) or (10AM-2PM PT) or maybe two hours during the work day when time zones overlap.
Deadlines: Be clear in expectations for meeting deadlines. Recognize that people in different time zones may have different schedules and may need to work at different times to be effective and more productive to meet agreed upon due dates for project completion.
Collaboration: Establish expectations for how team members should collaborate or share progress regularly through weekly check-ins or status reports. Some remote workers are used to working in silos and may need to become more familiar with the concept of teamwork.
Quality of work: Clearly identify expectations on the quality standard of work, and provide guidelines or examples of what constitutes high-quality work. For example, this could include use of spelling and grammar tools for all messages, accuracy of information submitted, formatting of emails, or details of notes added to project management tasks.
Tip 2: Be Flexible
Recognize that team members in different time zones may have different schedules, and try to accommodate the different times of day. Following are some strategies:
Meeting Times: Consider scheduling meetings at a time that works for everyone, or allow team members to work on their own schedules as long as they meet their deadlines. Avoid only meeting when it convenient in one person’s specific time zone.
For example, you decide you want to brainstorm about a complex project after lunch. One of your team members lives in Orlando and you live in Seattle. This is nearing the end of the workday for your remote worker who is three hours ahead. What is only 1:30PM to you is already 4:30PM to your remote employee on the east coast. This person may not have the mental bandwidth to tackle a complex issue after working a full day, so consider making it a mid-morning (Pacific Time)/Mid-Afternoon (Eastern Time) meeting instead.
Periodic Check-ins: Set up regular check-ins with your team using video conferencing software, and ensure that everyone has access to and are trained on using communication tools such as email, video conferencing, and project management software.
Overlap in Working Hours: Find out what the overlap is between your working hours and the other person’s working hours, and try to schedule meetings or important conversations during that time. This can help to ensure that teams have an opportunity to communicate in real-time and collaborate effectively.
Delays: Recognize that there may be delays in communication or responses due to time zone differences, and be patient. Allow the other person time to respond and don’t assume that they are not working or not interested in the project.
Tip 3: Be Considerate
When you are considerate of others, it can help to build positive relationships and foster a sense of trust and mutual respect. This can lead to more productive collaborations and better communication when working remotely across different time zones. Following are examples of how you can be considerate:
Planning ahead: If you know that you will need something to complete a task or milestone, plan ahead and try to communicate your needs during regular working hours. This can help to ensure that the other person is prepared and available to respond promptly. If you work in a dynamic environment where urgent matters surface periodically, make a plan for how the team will communicate and deal with them.
Scheduling meetings: Schedule meetings in advance, and make sure to include the time and date in the invite in the respective time zones. This will help to avoid confusion or misunderstandings about the timing of the meeting. Avoid scheduling impromptu meetings.
Sending messages: When working with remote workers in different time zones, be mindful of their working hours and try to avoid sending messages outside of those hours. If you do need to send a message, consider scheduling it to arrive at the beginning of their working day or let them know you do not expect an immediate response.
Delay delivery: If you need to send a message outside of working hours, consider using the “delay delivery” feature in your email or messaging app. This allows you to write the message when it is convenient for you, but delay the sending until the other person’s working hours.
Urgent messages: Avoid sending urgent messages outside of those hours, unless it is absolutely necessary. Sending urgent messages outside working hours can be disruptive and stressful for the recipient, and can make it difficult for them to maintain a healthy work-life balance. It can also create a sense of pressure to respond immediately, even when it is not necessary or feasible. If you do need to send an urgent message outside of working hours, be sure to acknowledge that you understand it may not be seen until the other person’s next working day.
Work-life balance: Avoiding urgent messages outside working hours is an important aspect of building trust, maintaining healthy working relationships, and promoting work-life balance.
Tip 4: Use Collaborative Technologies
When working remotely, time zone differences can be a challenge to effective collaboration. Use technology to your remote team’s advantage by using tools to keep track of working time frames in various locations, deadlines, and tasks. This can help to ensure that projects are completed on time and to a high standard, regardless of time zone differences. To manage projects effectively, consider the following strategies and tools:
Time zone converter: Use a time zone converter tool to keep track of the different time zones and ensure that you are scheduling meetings or deadlines at a time that works for everyone.
Project management software: Use project management software to keep track of deadlines, tasks, and milestones. This can help to ensure that everyone is aware of what needs to be done and by when, regardless of time zone differences.
Video conferences: Use video conferences to facilitate virtual meetings and collaboration. These tools can help to build rapport and promote more effective communication, even when team members are working in different time zones.
Communication tools: Use tools such as email, project management software, or shared drives consistently to keep remote workers in various locations informed on latest updates while providing a channel to ask questions. This allows the remote workers to respond when it is during their working hours, rather than having to respond immediately.
Expectations and training: Set clear expectations around communication, use cases, and availability status listings when using communication and collaborative technologies. Ensure all team members are trained and equipped to confidently meet expectations.
By following these practical tips, you can work effectively with someone in another time zone and build a strong working relationship, regardless of distance. Remember to clarify expectations, be flexible and considerate, and use collaborative technologies to help prevent misunderstandings and promote a culture of productivity and accountability in the remote environment. Developing strategies that work for your specific remote needs can equip you to work effectively with remote professionals in different time zones and achieve success as a team, regardless of geographic location.
For more training on working productively with remote team members, sign your remote workers up for our Remote Professional Certification. In this track, they will learn more strategies and tools to help them go remote and work on!